I never had any doubts that The Force Awakens would decimate when it released late last year. Not only had it been ten years since the release of Revenge of the Sith, but the latest installment in the Star Wars universe did away with the one person many people blame for the prequels’ shortcomings: George Lucas. What I never expected, however, was the visceral reaction from both fans and critics alike, especially as I was walking out of the theater on opening night. There was something wrong with the film on a molecular level. It didn’t feel right. It felt… tainted.
As a result, I held my peace on the matter. I had personal discussions in real life with others who had seen it, but I avoided any and all interaction online. The main reason? The climate was completely different at the time of its release. Coming out and admitting I thought the film was anything less than spectacular would have left me crucified by those hardcore enthusiasts. I tweeted my first reaction the night of, and the following day I had a discussion with someone on Twitter. After being talked down to because I was younger and therefore hadn’t seen the original trilogy as many times as him, I decided to bite my tongue from that point on.
A surprising thing happened, though. It eventually reached a point where the tides changed seemingly overnight. There were, and still are, many people carrying the torch for The Force Awakens, but I was no longer an outcast. I was no longer the exception to the rule; no longer the minority. With that said, my issues with the film and the issues presented by most are not necessarily 1:1. A common complaint among detractors is the film’s similarities to A New Hope, and while these are glaring and valid, I still think it goes deeper than that. However, at that point it had been too long since I had seen the film, and I had no desire to watch it again in the theater, so I decided to wait for for the blu-ray release.
Disney Mediocrity With a Star Wars Paint Job
The Force Awakens fails not solely on the fact that it hits the same plot beats found in A New Hope. It fails for the same reason the Marvel movies are good and not great: Disney. I know this is blasphemy because society as a whole has a massive hard on for anything this company puts out, but the truth is a majority of their output in the past decade or so has been mediocre at best, with a few rare exceptions, and their involvement in acquired properties ultimately holds these films back. I knew once we got a joke eight minutes into this film that this wasn’t the Star Wars I wanted or needed in 2015.
Star Wars has always had its funny moments, sure, but it was never overbearing or distracting. Here’s where the conflict arises because Disney loves jokes; they love making everything family friendly. It’s the reason Tony Stark acts like a goofball at the beginning of Iron Man 3, and why Michael Peña and T.I. were in Ant-Man. They have to constantly remind the viewers that this is a family romp, even though that’s what the trailers are supposed to do. So while these films have always had a few chuckle worthy moments here and there, the main focus was the characters, their growth, and the overall narrative.
Now if the goal of the jokes was to purposely be distracting because everything else wasn’t up to par, then I guess you can say The Force Awakens was a success. I say this because not enough people are bringing the movie’s actual flaws to light. Because if I’m being blunt, the characters in this movie are atrocious and aren’t nearly as endearing or interesting as those found in the original trilogy. They try, oh do they try, but the writers ultimately ended up with caricatures of these iconic characters. Rey is supposed to be Luke, BB-8 is R2D2, Kylo Ren is Darth Vader, and Poe is supposed to be Han. Then there’s FN-2187 who doesn’t even feel like he belongs.
And that’s not a knock against John Boyega necessarily. The blame belongs almost exclusively to the writers. The lazy writing dedicated to his character specifically is borderline racist because not only does he play the typical black supporting character, but it’s emphasized to the point that it almost appears as if he is part of a different movie entirely. He’s the constant comedic relief when things get tough, he’s gullible, and he’s given some of the worst dialogue in the film. At no point should the line “Do you have a boyfriend?” be in a Star Wars movie. I’m sorry. Also, “Droid, please!”
“Get it? Because he’s black! It’s like “nigga, please,” but we can’t say that because this is a family movie. Damn, I’m such a good writer. Give me a raise for coming up with that piece of comedic gold.”
On the flip side of the coin you have Rey, who after a second viewing I didn’t dislike as much, but her flaws became even more apparent. Actually, maybe the correct wording would be her lack of flaws, because she is literally perfect, which ironically makes her not perfect from a writing standpoint. She’s a strong female lead, and while that’s great, she also has no limitations. She can do absolutely anything she wants even though she’s essentially lived on her own, in seclusion, her entire life. There’s no character growth between the beginning of the film and the end, as we see Rey do stuff because of who she is as opposed to what she’s learned. It’s boring.
The extent of her struggle boils down to her closing her eyes for a moment; pulling from a reserve of power she doesn’t even know exists. It’s like all it takes for her to be successful is a little effort, a small push. This isn’t necessarily an uncommon thing in properties like Star Wars, but Abrams and company don’t even know how to implement it properly. Let’s take the final battle with Ren as a prime example. There is a hilarious moment where Ren has her on the ropes and she just closes her eyes for five to ten seconds. He makes no attempt to strike her down or gain full control of the fight. With blades locked, he just sits there and watches her. It’s ridiculous.
And since I brought Kylo Ren into the mix, I wouldn’t be doing the reader justice if I didn’t mention that he is, by far, one of the worst antagonists, not only in this franchise, but in any film I have seen in the past few years–in Star Wars specifically, he’s second only to Count Dooku. To put it plainly, he’s a child. He’s a child throwing a tantrum for what appears to be no reason at all. I never got the feeling that he was seduced by the dark side. As a matter of fact, I never even felt intimidated by him; I felt embarrassed whenever he was on screen. Maybe it was the fault of the writers, maybe it was Adam Driver, or perhaps it was a mix of both. All I know is he didn’t work.
Try as I might, I can never forget what Christopher Nolan did to Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, and in this movie, Kylo Ren is almost as bad. Whenever he has his mask on, the voice that comes out is so grating, not only because it sounds stupid, but also because the sharp audio from his vocals contrasts terribly with the audio from the rest of the movie. To make things worse, the mask doesn’t even look that cool or inspired, so it’s not like there’s a proper trade-off. In all fairness, it looks okay when he has his hood up, but there are multiple scenes where he’s walking with it down, and then it becomes clear just how awkward it looks.
At this point I feel like I’m ranting, and that’s not what I wanted to happen, so let me wrap things up. Star Wars as a property is probably in my top ten list of favorite things, maybe even top five, so it’s not like I wanted to dislike The Force Awakens. The problem is I don’t see where all the praise is coming from. We can talk about the parallels between this and A New Hope all day, but what about those saying this is some of the best acting in a Star Wars movie? What about the people saying these are complex and meaningful characters? What about those who say this is better than the original trilogy?
I understand we all have different tastes and expectations. Film, like music and every other art form, is entirely subjective. It’s this fact alone that makes it possible for me to write this while others share the opinion that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. For me, the undeniable truth is that this is not Star Wars. It’s a modern day Action/Sci-Fi flick with Star Wars included in the title. It has the force, and stormtroopers, and light sabers, but it lacks the heart and soul that made those first three films so fantastic. It was made by people who understood the movies from a fan’s perspective, as opposed to those who actually knew what went into making that trilogy so special.
As I was talking it over with a friend of mine for the thousandth time, in a kind of tongue-in-cheek response, he said something I felt was poignant, “What depressed me was how the trailer gave me chills and made me feel like a kid and the movie made me feel like I’d never feel that way again.” [sic] A little dramatic, sure, but he’s not entirely wrong. I remember how that first trailer made me feel; that childish excitement, eyes swelling with tears–I wanted that for two hours. Unfortunately, I also remember how I felt walking out of the theater at 10:30 on December 17th, 2015, and it wasn’t elation. Maybe Episode VIII will be an improvement, maybe not. All I know is I won’t be nearly as excited approaching its release.